Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews is having a breakout season. After recording just 34 receptions in his rookie year, the former third-round pick already has 23 catches through four games. Only four tight ends have more receiving yards than Andrews so far.
He's been a clear benefactor of Baltimore's new offensive system, but every week presents a new challenge. Whether it's a new opponent or having to accept a new role, Andrews has grown accustomed to facing different adversities and having to adjust. It's a life skill he picked up when he was just a young man.
As a budding athlete, Andrews considered himself more of a soccer and basketball player. His dreams of playing in the big leagues took a hit when at 9 years old, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
"Some of the early signs were that I was going to the bathroom a lot and I had a ton of thirst," Andrews told CBS Sports. "My dad is a doctor, so he knew some of the signs and I was fortunate enough because a lot of people with diabetes, that's the hardest part, catching what's going wrong. I remember going to the bathroom like four times during a soccer game. I wasn't able to complete a half without having to run to the bathroom, so my parents knew something was up."
A chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little to no insulin, diabetes can provide a problem for young athletes. With the continuous physical exertion and constant monitoring, Andrews says that his doctors and family were hesitant when it came to allowing him to continue to compete. When it came down to it though, Andrews decided he wasn't going to let this disease affect anything.
"Something that my family has always instilled in me is to never let this disease stop me from doing what I love to do and always follow my dream," Andrews said. "I wasn't going to let that stop me from doing what I wanted."
Andrews later turned his attention to football and excelled as a wide receiver at Desert Mountain High School in Arizona. Soon enough, the offers began to roll in. He decided to attend Oklahoma University, where he transitioned to playing tight end.
Things were going well for Andrews. He had successfully made it as a collegiate athlete and thought that he had his diabetes under control. Then, something happened that would change his life forever.
During his freshman year at Oklahoma, Andrews came across his first bye week. The team had an early morning practice, something that they usually didn't do. Andrews explained that a change of schedule can usually mean trouble for a diabetic if they don't monitor their glucose levels. Following the workout, he went back to his dorm room and decided to take a nap.
Andrews then slipped into a state of unconsciousness. His eyes rolled back into his head, he was unresponsive and his roommate was forced to call 9-1-1.
"I kind of came back into it ... I just opened my eyes a couple hours later and see six random men standing around me," Andrews said. "Am I alive or am I dead? It was a big wake up call, and it wasn't later until I realized that these were paramedics and they were there to help me."
After this health scare, Andrews and his family began to research different devices and methods they could adopt to ensure something like this could never happen again.
"I didn't want to have my parents worry about me like that," he said.
Andrews found a solution. He uses a small monitor which is placed on the lower abdomen, and can wirelessly send glucose levels to a smart phone or smart watch: the Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitor. Andrews, his mother, father, brother, agent, trainer as well as those in his inner circle can all keep eyes on his numbers with their phones.
"It allows you to have more eyes on you than just your own, and that truly has been a lifesaver for me," Andrews said. "I can't tell you how many times I've gotten a call during the night and my mom says, 'Hey, your numbers are about to go low, eat some sugar,' and that's what I do. It definitely saved my life having these people look after me."
Andrews even wears the small device on his abdomen when he plays on Sundays. I had to ask him if it felt odd to get tackled with this monitor on his body.
"Not at all," he responded. "Even if I get hit on the stomach or whatever, I don't feel it. It's such an easy process, you don't even feel like it's there, I honestly forget it's on me sometimes."
Andrews has evolved into an advocate for Type 1 diabetes awareness and as a mentor for young people who are going through the same challenges he did as a youth.
"I know for me growing up, there weren't a ton of people I could really look up to who had Type 1 diabetes, especially in football," said Andrews. "There may have been some players with diabetes, but they weren't advocates. For me, I want to be able to use the NFL and use my platform to go out and show kids that have Type 1 diabetes that they can do whatever in life and whatever their dreams are, to not let diabetes affect them. That's my goal, that's something that's near and dear to my heart."
Andrews didn't start his awareness campaign when he got to the NFL. He started before he even got to college.
"It was kind of high school," Andrews said. "I started picking up a lot of offers and whatnot, that's when I started having local kids come to me, and I would go and talk with them and try to inspire them. I didn't know exactly how it would turn out at first, but I saw early on that just some encouraging words to families -- especially families that just had someone diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, it really changes their perspective and changes their way of viewing life with diabetes. I saw the impact it could make, and I decided that this is something I wanted to do."
While encouraging words are always nice, Andrews is living proof that something which could be viewed as a hinderance doesn't necessarily have to be one. The Ravens' receptions leader is starting to make waves around the NFL, but has remained humble. He chalks up his success to his teammates.
The Ravens have a new starting quarterback in Lamar Jackson. A much more versatile athlete than his predecessor Joe Flacco, Baltimore's offense appears to be much more dynamic with him at the helm, and it's something that has allowed Andrews to break out. The defenses have to account for a lot more when the one under center likes to get out of the pocket.
"It's just different," Andrews said of the Ravens' new-look offense. "Having Joe there last year, he's obviously such a different player than Lamar. Lamar is an incredibly special guy, he's able to do so much and you always have to be prepared for him to scramble. People always knock him for his arm, but quite honestly, he's thrown some of the best balls that I've ever caught. It's a special offense, we have a lot of pieces around him to help him out."
Those pieces have allowed Baltimore to spread defenses out, which in turn has opened up Andrews for opportunities downfield.
The Ravens have had a couple of big wins, a couple of close games and then the one outlier -- a blowout loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4. Andrews says that it's all a part of the learning process and that the best is yet to come for this team.
"I think big things are ahead," Andrews said. "I think the Ravens play a certain way, and we have big expectations. If we continue to get better and grow as a team then we're going to go far. This is a team with a lot of chemistry and a lot of pieces going for us. I'm excited to see where it goes and I know right now we're super hungry to get this next win."
The NFL is all about adjusting day to day, week to week -- always anticipating the next challenge. Something Andrews is very accustomed to.